Asian cinema: Bollywood
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Shah Rukh Khan in a still from Zero.

Bollywood’s Shah Rukh Khan plays dwarf looking for love in Zero, and looking for a cinema hit

  • Actor steps out of his comfort zone to play 90cm character wooing Anushka Sharma’s wheelchair-bound scientist and Katrina Kaif’s actress with a drink problem
  • After a bad run for Khan, 53, some are asking whether he can make the transition from the romantic lead roles that made him a star

Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan’s latest film opens this week with the acclaimed actor, who plays a dwarf, seeking a hit after an underwhelming run at the box office.

Zero, hitting cinemas in India and a few other countries on Friday, sees the Hindi movie icon, miniaturised with special effects, caught up in a love triangle alongside a wheelchair-bound Anushka Sharma.

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Director Aanand Rai believes he brought the larger-than-life actor, nicknamed “King Khan”, out of his comfort zone to play a character 90cm (3 feet) tall.

“This kind of story about a man’s journey and his love story needed someone like him. By casting him, we challenged Mr. Khan to show us what he could do,” Rai says.

Zero – which is heavy on special effects – sees Sharma play a Nasa scientist with cerebral palsy and Katrina Kaif portray a Bollywood actress with a drink problem.

Bauua Singh, played by Khan, is struggling to find a wife because of his height but develops close bonds with both women as he searches for his true love.

It is Khan’s first movie since Jab Harry Met Sejal bombed last year. Two other films in which he starred, Raees (2017) and Fan (2016), also didn’t do as well as hoped.

The 53-year-old’s last undisputed blockbuster was Dilwale (The Big Hearted) in 2015, and with Zero reported to have cost two billion rupees (US$26.5 million) it may be starting to prey on his mind.

Katrina Kaif (left), Shah Rukh Khan and Anushka Sharma promote their new film Zero during the Indian reality-TV show Indian Idol’s grand finale this week. Photo: AFP

“If people feel that Zero is very important for me, it’s their feeling,” Khan told the Hindustan Times in a recent interview.

“God forbid, if this film doesn’t work, what will happen? Maybe, I won’t get work for six months or 10 months, but if I believe that my craft and art is good, I will continue to get work,” he added.

Khan shot to fame in the mid-90s as the romantic hero of hits like Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (The Brave-hearted Will Take The Bride) and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (Something Happens).

Audiences are not tired of the Khans. They are just looking for fresh and good content
Komal Nahta, referring to Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan and Salman Khan, Bollywood’s ruling triumvirate

Critics say Khan – a ubiquitous presence in advertising – has struggled to transition away from those roles and find a new niche for himself as he has got older.

They point out that playing the romantic hero alongside much younger actresses can jar with audiences. His Zero co-stars Sharma and Kaif are 30 and 35 respectively.

Some industry watchers have tipped Zero for success, though.

Vajir Singh, editor of Bollywood website Box Office India, says that Khan and Rai, known for romantic films Raanjhanaa (Beloved One) and Tanu Weds Manu, are a “win-win combination”.

Shah Rukh Khan attends the wedding of Isha Ambani, daughter of India’s richest man, and businessman Anand Piramal, son of another billionaire industrialist, in Mumbai this month. Photo: AFP)

The film also includes a cameo role by legendary actress Sridevi Kapoor, who died from accidental drowning in a Dubai hotel room bathtub in February aged 54.

Khan will have just one week to woo cinema-goers, however, with the Rohit Shetty-directed Simmba set to hit cinemas on December 28.

The action movie stars Ranveer Singh, one of several bankable younger stars who are challenging the hegemony of the Khans of Bollywood at the box office.

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For over two decades the triumvirate of Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan and Salman Khan have dominated film receipts.

But with Aamir’s Thugs of Hindostan and Salman’s Race 3 both rated among the worst films of 2018, the jury is still out whether Shah Rukh will record a dud or a hit.

“Just because two Khans had flops, doesn’t mean the third one will too,” Hindi film trade analyst Komal Nahta says.

“Audiences are not tired of the Khans. They are just looking for fresh and good content,” he adds.